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Slender Man, Creepypasta, and Web Horror's Growing Influence on Gaming

Creepypasta is now inspiring people to make creepy video games.

It's miraculous this Angelfire site is still up, but it's so appropriate that among the web's ghost ships, there it floats. Dated between 2000 and 2001, Ted, a cave diver, detailed a firsthand report of a claustrophobic descent into what he names 'Mystery Cave,' and the strange demon he thinks he encountered there.

I first saw Ted's cave story on the Something Awful forums, where it was soon overwhelmed with frenzied demands from users for updates, closure even. 

Today, about a decade later, there is a well-established clearinghouse for user-generated internet horror stories: Creepypasta. And now, Creepypasta characters are inspiring video games.

Related: How Video Games Are Confronting Our Darkest Subconscious

Consider the growth of Slender Man from online literary ghoul to creepy video game antagonist. 

Ted may be one of Creepypasta fiction's earliest champions, but he isn't its mascot. That award goes to Slender Man, a gangly, featureless spook that lurks in the peripheral, often among tall trees and camouflaging clutter. He is a ghost designed to make you second-guess shadows.

That, too, materialized on the internet, but Slender Man quickly became an entity belonging to all. Creepypasta eschews ownership; its properties and tropes belong to anyone who employ them. Even though Slender Man's original creator Eric Knudsen copyrighted the creature, its rampant deployment makes it possible for the lines between Slender Man fiction and fact to wash into the cache of rumour.

A shot from the Slender Man trailer. Image: YouTube

There have been two major materializations of Slender Man. One of them, Slender, is a video game series, which recently hopped onto PlayStation and Xbox, where you're stalked by the mysterious, suited entity. The other was an attempted murder, something that seemed right out of its own horror movie, when two girls in Wisconsin stabbed a classmate 19 times to appease the online legend. 

(That attack may have been more self-inspired; one of the assailants was reported to also be emotionally invested in Voldemort, Ninja Turtles, and unicorns.)

Even if Slender Man is copyrighted and still appropriated, all of pop culture seems to be on the table. I find the weakest element of Creepypastas is often how dweeby they are; many concepts circulate around lost episodes of Sponge Bob or The Simpsons. Nothing will snatch you out of a ghost story's grip faster than it unabashedly ending with the narrator watching a specific episode of Futurama.

But the Slender Man games have been able to maintain the creepiness and fear aroused by the online literature. Arriving soon after Slender Man became an evil meme, the games evoked immediate fear among viewers. Players began recording themselves playing and posting it to YouTube, so that screaming horror survival clips of Slender Man gaming experiences became their own, weird, unofficial genre of reaction videos. This also somewhat explains the popularity of Five Nights at Freddy's, a game YouTube personalities are currently freaking out about.

A shot from Five Night's at Freddy's. Image: Steam

Five Nights at Freddy's feels like a game based on a Creepypasta that was never made. You play as a graveyard shift security guard at a family pizza palace, soon learning the jam-band comes to life at night, stalking the halls for unfortunate souls to jam into a cartoon suit. 

Stuck to your control room, the only way to protect yourself is to close two blast doors on either side of you, which drain power from the same source you use to check security cameras. The reason it seems to have caught on with web horror fans is how much it feels like an amalgamation of their nightmares. It's a video game, good. It's creepy, yes. When you get axed, it's done abruptly, a sudden scare like so many YouTube pranks. 

Video games seem to be Creepypasta's largest tribute

Akin to Creepypasta fiction, it appropriates nostalgic childhood pop culture, the Chuck E' Cheeses of our world, a loss of innocence to something meant to bring joy to the lil' kiddies. Even its creator, Scott Cawthon, was a relative unknown before the game's release, making its sudden popularity a little more mysterious than the norm. That there are already Creepypastas being made about it feels like a circular inevitability.

This is not a blind appraisal of Creepypasta. A lot of them are crappy. A lot of them are goofier, than scary. Scrolling along their database, you can see relentless jabs at the same vein as content makers scavenge for the next breakthrough hit, the next Slender Man. But they do speak to the shape of the internet, how it's used to tell stories. It's become a platform for augmented reality games, for fuzzy gnome videos, for virtual ghosts, as definite as their origins may be, to evolve into heresy.